NARRAGANSETT, R.I. —In a contentious 3-2 vote Monday, the Town Council decided to sell part of the Belmont/IGA building that includes Pier Liquors to the local liquor retailer for $735,000, a move supporters of putting a new library in the building called irresponsible.
The vote came after library supporter and potential council candidate Win Hames made a verbal offer of $800,000 for the same space, which includes the liquor store, part of the second-floor area above it and a dozen parking spaces.
Council President Matthew Mannix brought the sale item to the council by placing it on the agenda last week and commenting on it in a story in the Narragansett Times newspaper.
Some library supporters charged that by doing so, Mannix violated rules prohibiting council members from releasing executive session information. They also alleged that Pier Liquors’ $735,000 offer amounted to an “inside deal” on the property, which the town owns and which has not been advertised or appraised. The council voted 3-2 in January to sell the Belmont/IGA property rather than renovate it into a library.
Mannix, Council Pro Tem Jill Lawler and Councilor Rick Lema voted for the purchase and sales agreement Monday. Councilors Patrick Murray and Jesse Pugh voted against it.
Mannix said the move corrects a “mistake” by the previous council of including the Pier Liquors space in the Belmont building sale. The town, he said, would recoup $735,000 and make an additional $335,000 over the $400,000 it paid for the space last year and get the town out from collecting rent from the store, placing the property back on the tax roll.
“That’s in the town’s long-term interest,” he said. Lawler said she doesn’t think the town should “rent or own a liquor store operation.”
Murray said the move is “forcing” Pier Liquors to purchase the space, and said he and Pugh wanted to offer the store a long-term lease of 20 years, in five-year blocks.
“This was rejected by the council,” he said. “(Mannix) was desperate for a sale. He wants to sell it, but he doesn’t want anyone to know it’s for sale.”
Pugh said the library project could become “not viable” if the liquor store space is sold, and claimed Mannix violated executive session rules by talking about the sale publicly last week.
“Not once did the council and the owners of Pier Liquors meet to discuss the property,” Pugh said. “Zero direct communication.”
Pugh also said it’s misleading that the town would make $335,000 on the deal, because Pier Liquors would be buying twice the amount of space as in the original sale.
He and others, including audience members, also blasted the summary Mannix included with the motion.
“(It) displays a level of emotional immaturity that is both embarrassing and disappointing,” Pugh said.
Mannix and Pugh then got into a back-and-forth argument when both men wanted to read the summary statement. Mannix ended up reading it.
At several times audience members burst out in yelling and jeering, and Acting Town Manager Sean Corrigan, the chief of police, had to restore order.
Voters in 2016 approved up to $5.8 million in borrowing for the purposes of improving town library facilities, and the town bought the Belmont building in March 2018 for $2.8 million, but three of five council members voted in January to sell the building.
“I’m very disappointed for our community,” Nancy DeNuccio, president of the Love Your Library Coalition, said. “We feel disenfranchised by the blatant disregard for the overwhelming vote in 2016.”